Thursday, June 23, 2011

150 Years Ago: Ballooning

Lowe's Enterprise in Harper's Weekly (1861), f...Image via Wikipedia

On June 23, 1861, hot air balloons were used for military purposes for the first time in U.S. history by Thaddeus Lowe.

Lowe, one of the most famous balloonists in the country, left a lucrative career to see what use he could be to his country.  He found himself vying with others to become Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps.  On this date 150 years ago, he was at Falls Church, Virginia, headquarters of the army's Topographical Corps, trying to prove the balloon's military usefulness to skeptical generals.

Lowe's balloon, the Enterprise, was anchored at Falls Church for two days and made numerous assents.  General Daniel Tyler, commander of the First Division of McDowell's Army of Northeastern Virginia, sent an officer aloft with Lowe .  He did the first American aerial reconnaissance, observing the movements of the Confederate forces around Fairfax Courthouse.  The officer also sketched a map of the countryside.

After his two day trial, Lowe returned to Washington.  He was asked to give an estimate of the cost of making balloons.  He was soon informed that he had been underbid by a competitor, John Wise.  Lowe quickly moved on, beginning a series of experiments on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution.

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